Mabinogion, Translation by Gwyn Jones and Thomas Jones, The Golden Cockerel Press (1948)

{Ed. Note: This article is a collaboration between Books and Vines contributors Neil, who wrote the text, and DlphcOracl, who provided the pictures.}

The Mabinogion is the title given to a collection of prose stories which were collected from Welsh medieval manuscripts.  The title Mabinogion appeared in the first English translations of these stories by Lady Charlotte Guest between 1838 and 1849.  The word Mabinogion appears only once in the manuscripts and was assumed to be the plural of the word mabinogi by Lady Charlotte.  Mabinogi is derived from the word ‘mab’ meaning ‘boy’ or ‘youth’ and in the context of the Mabinogion could be construed as the ‘tale of a hero’s boyhood’.

The tales concerning the lives of various Welsh royal families were preserved in written form in the White Book of Rhydderch (1300-1325) and the Red Book of Hergest (1375-1425).  The legends themselves come from an oral tradition of story-telling that is much older than the first recorded written records. The tales are set in a magical landscape which corresponds geographically to the western coast of north and south Wales.  They are concerned with the themes of fidelity, fall and redemption, love, loyalty and marriage, and are populated with heroic men and intelligent, beautiful women alongside mythical beings and creatures such as giants and magically appearing horses.

There are four main branches (heroic tales) of the Mabinogion – A single character, Pryderi, links all four of these branches:

There are a number of other stories that make up the Mabinogion including:

The Mabinogion has been hugely influential, giving rise to figures such as ‘Arthur’ and ‘Merlin’ and has provided the basis for many works of European and world literature.

The ‘Golden Cockerel’ Mabinogion

Mabinogion is the pinnacle of post-war Golden Cockerel’s! Christopher Sandford writes in the Golden Cockerel’s ‘COCKALORUM : A Sequel to Chanticleer and Pertelote’:

Both while I was in the army, and in the course of my work as a publisher, it has frequently been my good fortune to work with Welshmen, and it is my fond hope that this will not be the last occasion when I shall have the privilege of co-operating with them on an exciting enterprise.  At the time of writing, reviews of ‘The Mabinogion’written by foremost scholars, are still coming in, and, if one can be guided by their enthusiasm, it seems that the publication of this book is no small literary event, and that its production is worthy of the occasion.

Looking at the illustrations, I am reminded of my excitement when, during a lunch at Prunier’s, the artist showed me the first product of her research and experimentation.  Never can an illustrator have taken more trouble to achieve a perfect interpretation of the great literature of a nation in the terms of its own art.  The first trials were made on scraper-board, and the intention was subsequently to transfer them on to wood.  After two of the subjects had been transferred in this way, the great truth dawned upon us that, in certain exceptional circumstances, the medium of the scraper-board may be made to produce better results than those obtainable from engravings on wood.  This was a case in point.  The engravings, though executed with complete mastery of the medium, were actually not so good as were prints from photographic blocks made from the original scraper-board designs.  I therefore used photographic blocks for all the illustrations, except in the case of the frontispiece, for which I used the engraved block.  Clients may like to compare this engraving with the scraper-board variant of the same subject printed on page 102.  I do not wish to be misunderstood in my view-this is an exceptional case, for normally engraving, with its sensuously tapered lines, is by far the better medium.  Furthermore, the large photographic blocks were, for a number of reasons, very difficult to print.

I think that all the reviewers have expressed a polite hope that this new translation of ‘The Mabinogion’ will be made available to the widest possible public in some other edition.  I am glad to reassure them on this point.  Preparations are being made for its issue by Messrs J.M. Dent & Sons in their delightful ‘Everyman’ series.

The leather used in the bindings of this and subsequent books has been of outstandingly good quality.  Paradoxically enough, this is due to the scarcity and present enormous cost of leather, making it possible for me, at dreadful expense, to buy only what no one else could afford !

My sole misgivings about this book, as a book, are in connection with its size and weight.  By comparison with the beautiful bound volumes of past centuries in our libraries, this foolscap folio is quite small, but I for one consider it just too large and heavy to be read with comfort on one’s knee in an armchair.  My clientele seems to be divided: some prefer light and handy books, while others implore me to produce more books on this scale.  I do my best to please them both-in turn.

About the Edition

  • Designed, produced and published by Christopher Sandford at The Golden Cockerel Press, London
  • Published February 1948
  • A new translation from the White Book of Rhydderch and the Red Book of Hergest by Gwyn Jones and Thomas Jones
  • 20 engravings in wood and scraper-board by Dorothea Braby
  • Composition and presswork under the supervision of F.J. Newbery at the Chiswick Press
  • Caslon’s Old Face 18pt type
  • Mould-made paper
  • Bound in 1/2 orange Cape leather with maize buckram boards
  • 279pp, 14 X 8 1/4 inches
  • 550 numbered copies


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The Mabinogion, The Golden Cockerel Press, Book in Slipcase
The Mabinogion, The Golden Cockerel Press, Cover and Slipcase
The Mabinogion, The Golden Cockerel Press, Front Cover with Celtic Emblem
The Mabinogion, The Golden Cockerel Press, Macro View of Celtic Emblem on Cover
The Mabinogion, The Golden Cockerel Press, Spine and Covers
The Mabinogion, The Golden Cockerel Press, Title Page
The Mabinogion, The Golden Cockerel Press, Map of ‘The Lands of Mabinogion’
The Mabinogion, The Golden Cockerel Press, Map of ‘Wales of the Mabinogion’
The Mabinogion, The Golden Cockerel Press, Sample Text #1 (Introduction)
The Mabinogion, The Golden Cockerel Press, Sample Text #2
The Mabinogion, The Golden Cockerel Press, Sample Illustration #1
The Mabinogion, The Golden Cockerel Press, Sample Text #3
The Mabinogion, The Golden Cockerel Press, Sample Illustration #2
The Mabinogion, The Golden Cockerel Press, Sample Text #4
The Mabinogion, The Golden Cockerel Press, Colophon

2 thoughts on “Mabinogion, Translation by Gwyn Jones and Thomas Jones, The Golden Cockerel Press (1948)

  1. A book I would very much like to own despite the fact that I don’t really care for Braby’s illustrations–which is very odd considering I think her illustrations for “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” to be the best ever done for this seminal work (although for me the GC edition blew it by using a prose “translation” and not including the ME original).

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